Thursday, March 13, 2003

Bus funds not paid; riders angered

By Jennifer Edwards and Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

WEST CHESTER TWP. - Commuters on a daily bus service from the Meijer parking lot near I-75 to downtown Cincinnati are outraged that West Chester trustees refused to pay $11,437 to keep the service running for the rest of the year.

Now, if the rates aren't raised, West Chester's route from the parking lot just off Tylersville Road will grind to a halt March 31. If it ends, the 350 riders will be forced to take routes in neighboring communities or drive downtown and pay $80 to nearly $300 a month to park.

One Park-n-Ride route user, Beverly Pruitt, is so upset, she pledged to picket West Chester's proposed recreation community center.

"I am very disappointed," Pruitt said. "We're not a priority. I thought West Chester wanted public transportation, but obviously they don't."

But trustees say they can't afford to keep funding the service, particularly when they have urged Metro transit system and the Butler County Regional Transit Authority to raise fares to support it.

Unless Butler County commissioners agree to pay West Chester's share - which isn't likely - the rates must go up or the West Chester route will stop, said Paul Jablonski, general manager of the Southwestern Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA).

Fares are now at $1.75. The transit authority hasn't done a full analysis, but Jablonski estimates fares would have to rise 10 cents to 25 cents.

It would most likely be by 25 cents, if only for the simplicity of the fare.

The SORTA board has tentatively authorized a fare increase. But the increase also requires approval from Butler County and Cincinnati City Council, which provides the majority of local funding for the transit authority through a 0.3 percent earnings tax.

Thomas A. Luken, a former Cincinnati mayor and congressman who is one of the city's four representatives on the authority, said he did not believe City Council would oppose an increase.

Butler County Commissioner Mike Fox said he would need more information before deciding whether the county should step forward and pay West Chester's subsidy.

Raising the fare for the West Chester route seems like a possible solution, he said.

About 350 people in West Chester and about 140 in Fairfield use the Park-n-Ride routes on a normal workday.

Steve Kemme contributed to this report.

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